The Amazing White Temple in Chiang Rai

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January 22nd 2010
Published: April 19th 2010
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It was a long trip from Laos into Thailand! We were now on the homeward trip, albeit our arrival in Australia was still a fortnight away. As air fares from Laos were very expensive and entailed a long drive back to Luang Prabang to catch any flights we decided to overland it to Thailand instead and fly to Bangkok from Chiang Rai. We were up early to catch the bus - we had been dropped off by the bus company outside the hotel on our arrival to Luang Nam Tha but our departure started with a half hour tuk tuk ride to the highway 10 klms out of the town where we were left to await the arrival of our bus. We only hoped that the bus driver knew we were to be collected! Three quarters of an hour later a bus stopped for us - only two seats were left, and they were tiny! It was a pretty uncomfortable trip. We both had sore knees (they spent the entire trip pushed hard against the back of the seat in front of us) by the time we arrived at the riverside town of Huay Xai five hours later. Again though the trip was very interesting - passing through hilly rural scenes before we drove onto the river plains which surrounded Huay Xai.
The bus dropped us close to the immigration area - across the river was the Thai town of Chiang Khong. After clearing customs we crossed the river in a small boat and climbed up the bank to the Thai Immigration office. From there a taxi took us to the local bus station where after a short wait we caught a bus for the two and half hour trip to Chiang Rai. Once in Chiang Rai we had the usual battle with tuk tuk drivers to take us to a guest house. We decided to stay at Ben Guest House which proved to be a good decision - it was very comfortable, run well by Thai/NZ hosts, though it was a long walk into the main part of the city as we later discovered. Or maybe it just felt like a long walk after our long day on the road. We spent the evening at the night bazaar - a very large market full of tourist stalls and with two large areas set up to sell food. The food was great though we could have done without some of the featured entertainment - Thai country and western!
We spent the next day wandering around the streets of the city. I found a great second hand book shop run by an Expat so was able to buy some new books. I have read a lot of books during the previous months! In the evening we went to the Saturday markets which stretched the length of a long street. The markets were really busy, in fact they got too crowded for us so we eventually forced our way through the throngs and left. The streets were very pretty in the evening as they were hung with lots of silk lanterns and banners. The gilded town clock was quite spectacular, particularly at sunset as it glowed in the early evening light.
I had heard a lot about the the Rong Khun Temple, more commonly known as The White Temple, which was about 15 minutes out of Chiang Rai. Jerry wasn't enthuiastic about visiting it - he was 'over' temples, but I knew this one was going to be very different to any we had seen before. It was truly stunning! Totally weird as well.... It was designed and built by Thailands' top Buddhist artist. The exterior is totally white and highlighted with silver mirrored mosaic tiles and must look superb on a bright blue sky day - it was a little cloudy the day we visited. To enter the temple you go over a bridge - under it is a large pond full of enormous carp and dozens of hands reaching out of the water (clawing their way back from Hell?). Inside there were artists still painting the murals around the walls. There was a stunning Buddha mural on the back wall, maybe painted by the artist who designed it? He is after all an artist who was famous for his beautiful Buddha art! The other walls were covered in some really odd paintings - the destruction of the Twin Towers, George Bush, images from the Matrix movie - plus heaps more contempory images. The whole complex is large and still growing - information said that there will eventually be 9 pavilions and temples there. The toilet block (unfortunately closed for maintenance whilst we were there) looked as interesting as the rest of the complex. A big golden temple like structure! I also discovered that the artist designed the gold clock tower in the city centre. Beside the temple was an art gallery full of works by the artist - very expensive but very beautiful. His bronze Buddha statues were particularly stunning.
We had a great morning at the temple and can highly recommend it as a 'must see sight' if you ever visit Chiang Rai. We lunched in the city at a restaurant called 'Cabbages and Condoms' which had walls lined with hundreds of condoms! It is at the Hilltribe Museum - again a very interesting display of local colour and traditional practices - and is run as a non-profit restaurant by an organisation who aim to make condoms as common to the the Hilltribe villagers as cabbages. Later in the day we visited a memorial to the King - many locals were praying there and leaving gifts. Another evening of country and western music at the night bazaar and a little bit of last minute gift buying ended a great day. We still had a few more days before we were due to fly out of Bangkok so decided to head for the tea plantations of Mae Salong instead, a couple of hours north of Chiang Rai. We wanted to enjoy a few more peaceful days before we hit the highrises of Hong Kong and Taipei.

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19th April 2010

in awe
Thank you for the comprehensive tour. I often wondered how much restraint you have employed from buying so many wonderful articles.

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